The Anonymous Widower

Vivarail D-Trains Are Being Sent To Coventry

In A Video About The Vivarail D-Train, I said this.

I am sceptical about the Vivarail D-Train, but I do admire companies and organisations that think out of the box.

So after this report on Global Rail News, which is entitled Recycled Tube trains to re-enter passenger service this year, I am beginning to think that the Vivarail D-Train or the Class 230 train, might prove that engineering is the science of the possible. This is said.

Vivarail’s D-Train has its first customer and will enter passenger service between Coventry and Nuneaton later this year.

A Class 230 prototype, which started life as a London Underground D-Stock unit, is to be leased by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) for London Midland for an initial 12-month period.

The three-car train will act as a demonstrator, gathering feedback from passengers to inform the production of future trains.

I suppose there’s no better way to shut up the critics of a vehicle or transport system, than allow them to ride in it!

I don’t believe that the straight-talking inhabitants of the West Midlands will hold their tongue, if the train has shortcomings.


July 23, 2016 Posted by | Transport | , , , | Leave a comment

D-Train Prototype Takes Big Step Forward

This is title of an article in Rail Magazine, which shows a picture of a two-car Class 230 train.

I have a feeling that because of all the other developments in the UK rail industry, that sadly for the project’s backers, that this will be a project filed under Heroic Failures.

If Arriva Rail North can find ways to buy a new fleet of CAF Civity trains and IPEMU technology breaks through as expected, the market in the UK for the D-Train must be getting a lot smaller.

It could be getting to the point, where the train is totally unsaleable in the UK.

February 22, 2016 Posted by | Transport | , , , | 2 Comments

A Video About The Vivarail D-Train

I am sceptical about the Vivarail D-Train, but I do admire companies and organisations that think out of the box.

That is why I’m putting this link to a BBC video about the project.

In the UK, we are in such a great need of new trains, that any idea that works will probably have a niche somewhere. However small!

Of whom does the male BBC presenter remind you?

November 18, 2015 Posted by | Transport | , , | 1 Comment

Sudbury To Cambridge – D-Train, IPEMU Or Tram-Train?

In D-Trains For East Anglia? I reported on how possible Anglia franchisees, were looking at using Vivarail D-Trains between Marks Tey and Sudbury on the Gainsborough Line.

So as someone, who lived by the disused line from Sudbury to Cambridge Line via Haverhill  for nearly twenty years, I have views on whether this route should be opened.

The Case For Reopening

After my stroke, for a year, I lived just North of Haverhill, in the middle of nowhere. The only way to get to say Cambridge, Ipswich or London, was to get a taxi to either Newmarket and get a train or Haverhill and get a bus.

As with many people, a station in Haverhill would have given me an alternative route, using a cheaper taxi!

But for many who live along the Stour Valley getting to Cambridge and its employment opportunities means the car or a bus.

Haverhill is now a town of 30,000 souls and when the line closed, the population was under a quarter of that figure.

So although the case for closure of the Stour Valley Railway in 1967, was strong, there is probably just as strong a case to provide a high-quality public transport system between Sudbury and Cambridge via Cavendish, Clare and Haverhill.

The Route Today

Much of the route is still there, although in places it has been built upon.

But I believe, as do others, that a single-track railway with passing places could be built between the West Anglia Main Line, just South of Shelford station to Sudbury station on the Gainsborough Line thst connects to the Great Eastern Main Line at Marks Tey station.

If the line is built mainly single-track, this would be more appropriate for an area of outstanding natural beauty and it would make it easier to squeeze the line into difficult places like the station at Sudbury, which is shown in this Google Map.

Sudbury Station

Sudbury Station

The route of the overgrown disused rail line, goes out towards the South-West.

The route of the line is still visible in the other major town on the line; Haverhill. It is shown on this Google Map.

The Railway Through Haverhill

The Railway Through Haverhill

The railway goes across the town from North-West to South-East. It does split with one branch going South over a massive brick viaduct and the other going East towards Clare, Cavendish and Long Melford.

Much of the line now is a footpath through the town, which I suspect could share the route with a single-track railway or tramway. Tesco’s probably wouldn’t mind if the station was just to the North of their massive car-park.

I suspect that all stations would be designed to be as simple as possible.

Several of those on the new Borders Railway like EskbankGalashiels,  Gorebridge and Newtongrange are well-designed single platforms and some have no means to cross the railway.

Stations like these would be practical and unobtrusive.

Possible Rolling Stock

Because of the limited nature of the track, which as I pointed out could possibly be mainly single track, I think that some types of rolling stock can be ruled out.

If say, the line was to be run using something like two or three-car Class 168 trains, there could be capacity, vibration and noise problems.

So I think we’re left with the following.

  • D-train or Class 230 trains
  • IPEMUs
  • Class 399 tram-trains

I shall now look at each in detail.

Class 230 Trains

Class 230 trains or D-trains have been talked about as possibilities for the Gainsborough Line and these conversions from London Underground D78 Stock could certainly travel easily between Marks Tey and Shelford, before going on to Cambridge.

Other than possible hostility to their origin and second-hand provenance, I can see other problems with these trains.

  • When running between Shelford and Cambridge, would they get in the way of faster trains to and from London and Stansted.
  • Would they have a noise and vibration problem, as they trundled through quiet villages?
  • Extending the service at either end to perhaps Colchester and Cambridge North might be difficult.
  • They would have a shorter life-span than the other options.

But we haven’t seen a Class 230 train in service yet.


IPEMUs or battery-powered trains have only been seen briefly on UK railways and that was at Manningtree, where Bombardier and Network Rail ran the prototype in a successful trial in public service.

They are full size four-car electric trains and could run from Marks Tey to Shelford on batteries, charging up on the electrified main lines.

In addition they would have the following other advantages.

  • They have a high-capacity, with all the facilities that all types of passengers could want or need.
  • There could be no need to put up any overhead wires between Marks Tey and Shelford.
  • They would probably have a very low intrusion factor into the environment.
  • When they are on the main lines, they become normal trains, so there would be no disruption to other traffic.
  • They could also extend the service to between say Colchester and Cambridge North.

Perhaps the only disadvantage of IPEMUs, is that being full-sized trains, the railway might have to be fully-protected with fences.

Class 399 Tram-Trains

Class 399 tram-trains are the unusual one of the three. But in some ways they are the most versatile.

They are a three-car high-capacity 100% low-floor tram, very similar to those you see in Blackpool, Birmingham, Croydon or Nottingham. But in addition to being able to run using a tram 750 VDC overhead supply, they can also run as a train using the standard 25kVAC supply of the main line railway.

They combine the best characteristics of both means of transport.

In the next couple of years they will be trialled in Sheffield on an extension of the Sheffield Supertram to Rotherham.

For those that worry about the technology, several German cities have large systems of mixed trams, trains and tram-trains, so it is not by any means untried. Especially, as a Class 399 tram-train is a German standard tram-train, modified for our overhead voltage, which incidentally is much more standard, than the German’s 15kVAC.

The tram-train would start at Cambridge or Cambridge North stations and run as a tram to Shelford station, where it would become a tram running on the route of the Stour Valley Railway all the way to Sudbury, where it would continue along the Gainsborough Line to Marks Tey, where it could use the overhead wiring to go to Colchester if required.

A Class 399 tram-train would have advantages and disadvantages compared to say the IPEMU.

I’ll deal with the disadvantages first.

  • It is a three-car tram of slightly smaller capacity than the four-car IPEMU.
  • It would need to have a track electrified to 750 VDC using a simple overhead catenary.
  • They have tram interiors and no toilets.
  • They are slightly slower on train sections, than the IPEMU.

But it does have advantages too.

  • They are 100% low-floor vehicles, so have comprehensive step-free access.
  • Stops can be a very simple design without any expensive foot-bridges, lifts or long disabled ramps. Just like Croydon for example!
  • They are good sight-seeing vehicles for a beautiful part of the country
  • When the line allows it, they can get up to speeds of nearly 70 mph on a main line railway.
  • Tram-trains have all the flexibility and manoeuvrability of trams, so they can go off for a meander rather than a direct route, if necessary.
  • If used between Cambridge and Marks Tey,instead of going direct from Cambridge to Shelford, they could take a loop around the Addenbrooke’s site.
  • Or perhaps if they turned at Cambridge North, they could perhaps do a tour of the Science Park rather than a simple reverse.

It is a terrible pity that the Cambridge Guided Busway was designed before tram-trains became a viable alternative.


It is very much a case of who pays the money makes the choice.

  • The Class 230 train is a remanufactured train that doesn’t need any expensive electrification, but may have noise, vibration and performance issues.
  • The IPEMU is a brand-new train that doesn’t need any expensive electrification and has all the performance, comfort and facilities of any modern full-size electric train.
  • The Class 399 tram-train is also brand new, needs only simple electrification and infrastructure and has all the performance and flexibility of a tram coupled with many features of a full-size electric train.

If the choice was down to me, I would discount the Class 230 train, but only because the other two solutions are new and not remanufactured old ones, which will have to be replaced at some time.

So why not have the new IPEMUs or Class 399 tram-trains, both of which would probably give first-class service for a large number of years?

Both the new trains are types of trains, that will be common on the UK rail network, so as the knowledge base increases we’ll probably find ways of using them both to create very high-class public transport systems.

Choosing between the two new solutions is extremely difficult.

As neither has run in extended service on the UK rail network, I feel that for the moment I’ll duck that difficult choice.

As an aside, this analysis has proved to me, that the Cambridge Guided Busway may have been a good decision at the time based on the knowledge available, but with the arrival of IPEMUs and tram-trains, it is very much a technology that few will choose in the future.


October 26, 2015 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , | 2 Comments

D-Trains For East Anglia?

This article in Rail Magazine is entitled D-Trains For Anglia and says this.

Vivarail spokesman Alice Gilman told RAIL on October 19 discussions have been held about the possibility of the rebuilt D-Trains being used as part of the new Anglia franchise.

She suggested that North Norfolk and the Marks Tey-Sudbury routes could be homes for the Class 230s, which are being converted from redundant London Underground D-Stock. 

Who knows what will happen?

Remember that the trial of the IPEMU happened in East Anglia and I suspect that the current franchise holder, Abellio; knows the capabilities and costs of the two train types as good as anybody does.

So if Abellio is talking to Vivarail about D-trains they must have good reason.

Platform Lengthening

Could it be that it would need some expensive platform lengthening to accommodate the four-car IPEMU on the Gainsborough Line and the Bittern Line in North Norfolk!

I’m not sure, but I think all the other branches in East Anglia have platforms that are long enough for four-car trains, so they could accept IPEMUs tomorrow, if any were available.

London To Lowestoft

The latest franchise documents show direct trains between London and Lowestoft. Modern Railways in November 2015 says this.

Lowestoft is to regain direct services to the capital, with four through journeys in each direction.

The old direct services were well supported in the 1970s, so I suspect that they will be whenever they start.

The services would need an IPEMU, a Class 800 electro-diesel or diesel-hauled coaching stock, so you can take your pick on what ends up running these services. But it won’t be a D-train.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see all services on the Lowestoft branch were run by IPEMUs, with some extended all the way to London.

Extension From Sheringham And The Norfolk Orbital Railway

Also in Norfolk, the Bittern Line is now connected to the North Norfolk Railway at Sheringham station over a new level crossing.

Are there moves afoot in Norfolk to extend the Bittern Line to Holt? Or perhaps to even create the Norfolk Orbital Railway from Sheringham to Wymondham via Holt and Fakenham?

The campaigners for the North Norfolk Railway have created this web site.

I can’t believe Norfolk Orbital Railway will ever open, but after the successful recreation of the Borders Railway, the rules for the creation of new rail routes must have changed.

Could D-trains be an ideal way of providing rolling stock on a line with no electrical connections?

Lowestoft To Yarmouth

There must be lots of good reasons concerning commerce, tourism, leisure and families to connect the two biggest towns in the East of England by rail. Great Yarmouth is slightly bigger with a population of 70,000 to Lowestoft’s 60,000.

Because no connection exists, I’d always thought that to provide one was difficult, as it would envisage building a large bridge across the water in the area. But I have just read a section entitled Direct Yarmouth Services in the Wikipedia entry for Lowestoft station. This is said.

In January 2015, a Network Rail study proposed the reintroduction of direct services between Lowestoft and Yarmouth by reinstating a spur at Reedham. Services could once again travel between two East Coast towns, with an estimated journey time of 33 minutes, via a reconstructed 34-chain (680 m) north-to-south arm of the former triangular junction at Reedham, which had been removed in c. 1880.The plans also involve relocating Reedham station nearer the junction, an idea which attracted criticism.

Surely if Network Rail has suggested this link in this study on their web site, it must be fairly easy to reinstate, as they don’t want to start any more fiascos.

There are several possible reasons.

  1. Has the Todmorden Curve shown that these links generate traffic and revenue for Network Rail? Perhaps, they’ve even got the maps out and looked for similar curves to Todmorden.
  2. Does this link give an extra route between Norwich and Ipswich, that makes it easier for passengers to do certain journeys without changing trains?
  3. There is a significant number of journeys betwen Lowestoft and Yarmouth by rail and road.
  4. Does it make it easier for IPEMUs to serve Lowestoft and Yarmouth?
  5. Perhaps reorganising the rail lines and station at Redham realises a sizable piece of land for development.
  6. Do Network Rail want to create a record for reopening the oldest closed railway line? 135 years has probably not been beaten.

This map shows the area of the proposed junction.

Reedham Station And Junction

Reedham Station And Junction

Dspite being removed in 1880, the line of the third side of the junction is still visible.

But there is opposition as this article in the Great Yarmouth Mercury details. Perhaps, the locals don’t want any more housing?

The article mentions a cost of a billion pounds, which would make it a no-no!  However the Todmorden scheme cost less than ten million pounds for a similarly-sized curve.

If a simple shuttle was to be run between Lowestoft and Yarmouth, this could be handled with ease by a D-train. But where would you charge an IPEMU?


October 24, 2015 Posted by | Transport | , , | 3 Comments

Have We Got Enough Trains?

In Who Will Be First To Order Vivarail D-Trains?, I came to the conclusion that as the various Pacers need to be replaced, that we’re going to have to work hard to fill the enormous gap.

If you summarise possible requirements for D-Trains to replace Pacers and perhaps sort out the Class 153 trains, you get the following.

East Anglia – 3 to replace inadequate Class 153s

London Midland – 4 to replace inadequate Class 153s, 2 for the Coventry Arena shuttle

East Midlands – 8 to replace inadequate Class 153s, 2 for Robin Hood

Great Western Railway – 8 to replace Class 143 Pacers

Wales – 30 to replace inadequate Class 142 and Class 143 Pacers, 2 for Heart of Wales Line

Northern Rail – 50 to replace inadequate Class 142 Pacers

That totals up to a hundred and three and it assumes that all of the Class 144 Pacers can be upgraded to Class 144e trains and that North Western electrification releases a few good diesel trains to replace Pacers.

There is only a maximum of seventy-five D-Trains. So without any other sources of new trains, we’re definitely in the doo-dah.

So what other sources of good quality diesel or other self-powered trains are there, that we could use to solve this crisis, that will happen, when the inadequate trains hit the brick wall of access and disability regulations in 2019/2020.

The Aventra IPEMU

The Aventra is Bombardier’s successor train to the ubiquitos Electrostar and it has already been ordered for Crossrail and the London Overground.

Bombardier have told me, that all Aventras can be delivered with provision for a battery to allow them to run for up to 60 miles independently of the power supply. This is all based on the technology demonstrated in a BEMU trial with a Class 379 train.

These trains are now called Independently Powered Electric Multiple Units  or IPEMUs

The Aventra IPEMU has lots of advantages.

  • It is a modern four-coach electric train with everything passengers and train companies expect, that can bring the benefits of electrification to many places without putting up any wires or laying any third rails.
  • It is normally an 100 mph train, but some Electrostar versions are faster than this. If it was a 110 mph train, it could mix it up something like the West Coast , East Coast  or Great Western Main Lines and then go to an important place just a few miles from the main route, like Chester, Middlesbrough or Oxford.
  • The low-speed performance on batteries is the same as the standard train, but with a range of only sixty miles.
  • The train has sufficient performance to handle cross-country lines like Newcastle to Carlisle with electrification at both ends, that might be difficult to electrify.
  • In some places using an Aventra IPEMU might be more affordable and much quicker to implement than full electrification.
  • The trains will probably be available from 2018 or so, when current orders are completed.
  • If we end up with too many of the IPEMU variant, the batteries are just removed and probably with a change of software, we have the standard train.

We’ll be hearing a lot about IPEMUs in the future.

There are already rumours that Great Western Railway are going to order some IPEMU trains.

I suspect the biggest problem with these trains, other than demonstrating that trains powered by batteries are not some Mickey-Mouse idea, is that producing enough of them will be challenging for Bombardier.

As the Crossrail order can’t be delayed, I do wonder whether if the pace of delivery of the forty-five Aventras for London Overground will be slowed., after perhaps the eight for Gospel Oak to Barking are delivered, to allow other routes to have Aventra IPEMUs.

Vivarail D-Train, Class 144e Train Or Aventra IPEMU

There are three possible new or refurbished trains that can help to fill the gap of a lack of independently powered trains and help to replace all the trains that will have to be retired in 2020.

So how do they compare?

  • The Vivarail D-train is a rebuilt London Underground D78 Stock train powered by a number of Ford Transit engines. It may turn out to be successful train, but the politicians are against it. I see it no more than providing some short term capacity or fulfilling unusual needs in particular places.
  • The Class 144e Train is a Class 144 Train that has been rebuilt by Porterbrook. But it is obviously a Pacer! They may be produced as an affordable stop-gap.
  • The Aventra IPEMU is a serious train built to the highest and most acceptable standards, whose one disadvantage is that it needs to have access to overhead electrification at times, to charge the batteries! Stop-gap they are not and if the batteries are removed, it becomes the standard Aventra.

My choice as a passenger would be the Aventra, although I would ride in the others out of curiosity.


Electrification will be the major source of good quality diesel trains, as these are often no longer needed after a line is electrified.

As a simple example consider the Gospel Oak to Barking Line, which on electrification will release eight rather nice and fairly new Class 172 diesel trains.

North Western Electrification

The North Western Electrification between Manchester and Preston and Preston to Blackpool is in trouble, but if this can be brought on track, so that Manchester to Preston is completed in December 2016 and Preston to Blackpool is completed in 2017, these lines can be run by refurbished Class 319 trains and a number of Pacers will not be needed and some Class 150 and Class 156 trains will be released for service elsewhere.

Everybody blames Network Rail, but it seems the problem is the same one faced by George Stephenson and his fellow engineers in Victorian times – the nature of the land. This is a recent report from the Manchester Evening News about more problems in the Farnworth Tunnel, which is being enlarged. This extract sums up the problems.

Engineers have been hindered by ‘large swathes of sand’, which are proving difficult to bore through.

The sand means it is no longer possible to safely excavate at the same time as grouting sections of the tunnel, as the sand pours down.

The problem first reared its head on August 14, when running sand created a hole which required 35 tonnes of grout to fill it.

Then on August 27, a collapse meant engineers had to remove 100 tonnes of sand by hand.

Let’s hope that the engineers are getting the overhead line equipment up on time.

But I do think some very experienced engineers are wondering, why they didn’t order trains, that could run on the existing infrastructure. On the other hand the Farnworth Tunnel was probably a problem, that could have bit the railway in half at any time.

I think it is essential that other lines in the North West are electrified as soon as possible, so that more Class 319s can replace Pacers and release Class 15X trains (A mixture of 150 and 156 trains!).

This is a map of the proposed electrification in the North.

Northern Electrification Map

Northern Electrification Map

There are various connecting lines around Liverpool, Manchester and Preston, on which electrification works have not yet started, but have certainly been talked about.

Electrifying these lines would certainly get rid of a few Pacers and release some Class 15X trains for refurshment and use elsewhere.

However, as there is established electrification at Liverpool, Manchester and Preston, it might be more affordable and quicker to use a few Aventra IPEMUs on these lines until the electrification is completed.

Manchester To Leeds Electrification

The Manchester to Leeds electrification has now been paused and it is likely that it will not be completed in the next ten years.

The line has its problems as the three-car Class 185 trains, that work the line, are totally inadequate for the route.

The distance by rail between Manchester and Leeds is 43 miles. When I saw this, I didn’t believe it, but it’s all in this article in the Guardian.

So this means that if you want to run an electric train between Liverpool and Manchester to Leeds, York and Newcastle, the Aventra IPEMU would bridge the gap with ease. The test version of the Aventra IPEMU was a modified Class 379 Train. Similar versions of these like the Class 387 Train are 110 mph trains, so could we see an Aventra IPEMU with such a top speed?

In other words the North Transpennine route could be electrified using four-car 110 mph Aventra IPEMUs. They would certainly be able to serve Newcastle and Middlesbrough, but Scarborough and Hull might still need to be operated by diesel trains.

It would also appear that Aventra IPEMUs could also bridge the gap between Leeds and Manchester Victoria on the Caldervale Line.

This would mean that all stations between Leeds and Manchester on both routes could be served by electric Aventra IPEMUs, if the line was not electrified.

Great Western Electrification

The electrification of the Great Western Main Line is important in solving the train crisis for several reasons.

  • If the electrification of the Great Western can be completed as far as Swindon and Newbury, this might release some of the 36, two- and three-car Class 165 trains or the 21, three-car Class 166 trains. These are in good condition and every train company will want a few to provide modern services.
  • Once electrification is completed to Bristol and Cardiff and Class 800 and Class 801 trains are running on the route, will release a number of InterCity 125s. Some are ear-marked for Scotland to provide flagship services and I’m sure that train companies will find uses for the rest.
  • Electrification to Cardiff will enable electrification of the Cardiff Valleys Lines. But the Valleys electrification needs the new trains to be delivered for Crossrail and/or the London Overground, so that the Class 315 trains can be refurbished and cascaded.

This report in Construction News entitled Crossrail, Thameslink, Great Western and North-west identified as priorities in Network Rail report says this.

The report into the planning of Network Rail’s £38.5bn improvement plan is expected to be released next month.

Sir Peter has identified Crossrail, Thameslink, Great Western and the North-west electrification as the four key “priority projects” for Network Rail, according to sources close to the report.

So it looks like the Great Western and North Western projects might get the resources to finish in time to allow cascades to release trains to help solve the shortage of train problems everywhere.

Scottish Electrification

Although the train shortage is more pronounced in England and Wales, Scottish electrification could give the rest of the UK a helping hand.

In the Wikipedia entry for Abellio ScotRail there is a section entitled Future. This is said.

Abellio ScotRail will introduce a fleet of 46 three car and 24 four car Hitachi AT200 electric trains from December 2017, to operate services on the lines being electrified as part of the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme, if it granted a three-year optional franchise extension, it will order a further 10 three car units.

Abellio ScotRail will also introduce 14 four-carriage and 13 five-carriage refurbished High Speed Trains by December 2018 on longer-distance services between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness. This is contingent on the rolling stock being released by First Great Western, with suggestions in July 2015 that the electrification of the Great Western Main Line was running 12 months late.

This new rolling stock will result in 10 Class 156, eight Class 158 and 34 Class 170s returning to their leasing companies.

So when the new Hitachi trains are delivered by the end of 2018, there could be around fifty diesel trains available to help out in England and Wales.

It is also another reason why electrification of the Great Western must be completed, as without it, Scotland won’t get the High Speed Trains.

Gospel Oak To Barking Electrification

The eight Class 172 trains on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line will be released when that line is electrified.

But who knows when, that will happen?

As the services on the line could be provided by Aventra IPEMUs charging from the electrification at Barking, I do wonder if this should be done to release the Class 172 trains as early as possible. The electrification of the line would then be done at a more relaxed pace, whilst a full service was provided by the Aventras.

Pushing The Train Operating Companies To Help Themselves

In the last few months, some of the franchises have been extended or advertised for new franchisees.  And I think it is true to say, that the Department for Transport, is expecting that the train companies do something about improving the service.

Perhaps this paragraph from Transforming The North’s Railways is the most significant.

We are looking for a complete modernisation of the Northern rolling stock fleet, which will involve replacing Pacer trains completely by 2020 and delivering high quality modern trains for passengers. Bidders’ rolling stock plans must include at least 120 new-build carriages for use on non-electrified routes. The new carriages that will be introduced on the Northern network, along with the release of diesel units following the introduction of electric trains on newly-electrified routes, will enable the replacement of the Pacer units. Existing electric and diesel trains on Northern will receive a complete modernisation to make them ‘as new’ as soon as practicable after franchise start, with the emphasis that the design of new and existing interiors should feel thoroughly modern and focus on passenger comfort.

One hundred and twenty new build carriages for non-electrified routes either means something like sixty two-car diesel multiple units, thirty four-car Aventra IPEMUs or perhaps a mixture of the two. I don’t thin it means D-Trains or Class 144e Trains.

With Jeremy Corbyn threatening to nationalise the railways, it does seem the train companies are being told to sharpen up their acts significantly.

I think we’ll see more innovation and better services offered in the next few years.

Class Is Permanent

When Chiltern Railways wanted trains to run a high standard of service between London and Birmingham, they turned to locomotive-hauled Mark 3 coaches.

The coaches were refurbished to a very high standard, where every passenger can look out of the window, as shown in Hauled By A Diesel Locomotive To Birmingham. They even have sliding doors and modern toilets that meet all current and known future regulations.

And of course, they still have one of the finest ride qualities of any train in the world.

This is said on the Wikipedia entry for Abellio ScotRail.

Abellio ScotRail will also introduce 14 four-carriage and 13 five-carriage refurbished High Speed Trains by December 2018 on longer-distance services between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness. This is contingent on the rolling stock being released by First Great Western, with suggestions in July 2015 that the electrification of the Great Western Main Line was running 12 months late.

High Speed Trains are formed of two Class 43 locomotives and an appropriate number of Mark 3 coaches.

I would assume the coaches will be refurbished very much like the Chiltern examples with a high class interior, sliding doors and modern toilets, so they meet all current and known future access, disability and environmental regulations.

Terry Miller’s magnificent design, that was built between 1975 and 1988, just seems to keep putting off the inevitable. I wouldn’t bet against some Mark 3 coaches still being in regular service for a hundred years.

Despite their age, there are still a lot of Mark 3 coaches in regular service. I’m not sure how many, but there are over 800 in InterCity 125 sets.

In addition to the superb Chiltern Class 68 locomotive-hauled sets, there are also several sets used by Abellio Greater Anglia on Liverpool Street to Ipswich and Norwich services, where they are hauled by Class 90 locomotives.

These Greater Anglia sets need upgrading with sliding doors and modern toilets, if they are to stay in service past 2020.

The next operator for this franchise is being given tough conditions, which include putting modern trains on the flagship route and running some services in ninety minutes from Norwich to London and sixty from Ipswich. The question has to be asked if this would be possible with a modern locomotive and refurbished Mark 3 coaches!

I think there is a high chance that the winning bidder for the next Greater Anglia franchise will still be using refurbished Mark 3 coaches between Liverpool Street, Ipswich and Norwich.

The new franchisee will have to offer lots of new services and three possibilities have been run in my lifetime.

  • Liverpool Street and Great Yarmouth, via Cambridge, the new Cambridge Science Park station and Norwich.
  • Liverpool Street and Peterborough via Colchester, Ipswich, Bury St. Edmunds and Ely.
  • Liverpool Street to Lowestoft via Colchester and Ipswich.

They have a problem, in that sections of these routes are not electrified. There are four possible solutions.

  • Run the routes in such a way that an Aventra IPEMU can service it. A possibility!
  • Buy a few Class 800 electro-diesel trains, which would probably be made in Japan by Hitachi. Expensive but possible!
  • Get a few more sets of refurbished Mark 3 coaches and haul them with a Class 88 electro-diesel locomotive. No problem and in style!
  • Use InterCity 125s. Possibly, but 100% diesel!

The only options that could be done quickly would be to use the Class 88 or InterCity 125s.

The latter would work, but surely a mainly electric modern solution is probably better and more acceptable to politicians.

I would also never rule out more sets of Mark 3 coaches being used around the country after refurbishment. The only problem is something environmentally-friendly to haul them!

The Scottish solution of shortened High Speed Trains could also be used.

Aventra IPEMUs Running From Or Between Electrified Hubs Or Lines

Many branch lines or secondary routes meet the following conditions.

  • They are electrified at one or both ends.
  • The electrification is sufficient to charge an Aventra IPEMU’s battery, as it waits to return or passes along the line.
  • The non-electrified sections of the line are short enough to be handled by an Aventra IPEMU.

Examples of lines suitable for an IPEMU include.

  • Newcastle to Carlisle
  • Manchester to Leeds
  • Cambridge to Ipswich
  • Coventry to Nuneaton
  • Carnforth to Barrow-in-Furness
  • Norwich to Yarmouth

I think that once the Aventra IPEMU concept is proven, then we’ll see them increasingly used around electrified lines.

There is a long list of places, where branch and secondary routes meet main electrified lines.

  • Birmingham
  • Carlisle
  • Coventry
  • Crewe
  • Darlington
  • Doncaster
  • Ely
  • Ipswich
  • Leeds
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester Piccadilly
  • Manchester Victoria
  • Newcastle
  • Norwich
  • Peterborough
  • Preston
  • Wolverhampton
  • York

This list will hopefully be increased, when the Great Western Main Line is electrified.

  • Bristol
  • Cardiff
  • Reading
  • Swansea

I have written An Alternative Approach To Provide A Local Metro Network, which investigates how  Aventra IPEMUs can be used to provide electric trains on lines without full electrification.

The only area of the country that will lack electrified hubs in a few years will be the East Midlands Main Line and the far South West and the Northern parts of Scotland and Wales.

So surely, it is important that we electrify the Midland Main Line to bring electrification to the important hubs of Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield, so we can use Aventra IPEMUs to provide electric trains on their local lines.


It’s tight, but I think it’ll be alright in 2020, but there are certain things we must do.

  1. Use no more than a handful of Vivarail D-Trains to provide services on some far-flung lines.
  2. The Great Western, North Western and Scottish electrifications must be completed on time.
  3. Use the Mark 3 coaches intelligently
  4. Use new Aventra IPEMUs to side-step electrification in places like, the electrification gap between Manchester and Leeds and the Cardiff Valleys Lines.
  5. Use new Aventra IPEMUs to provide services around electrified hubs.
  6. Scrap all the Pacers except possibly upgraded Class 144e trains.
  7. Upgrade the Class 150, Class 153 and Class 156 trains.

I think it’ll be interesting to see how the companies jump.







September 21, 2015 Posted by | Transport | , , , , | 4 Comments

Who Will Be First To Order Vivarail D-Trains?

This is pure speculation on my part, but I suspect that before the end of the year, one train company or another will give the Class 230 or Vivarail D-train a serious trial, prior to a possible order.

I shall list some of the reasons why a train company might use Vivarail D-trains.

Pacer Replacement

The main market for the D-train must be to help drive the Pacer trains to the scrapyard.

There are five classes and they all suffer from the same problems, explorerd in detail in this section on Wikipedia.

  • They look and feel like thirty year old buses.
  • They don’t meet the current access and disability regulations.
  • Doubts have been raise about their safety in an accident.

But I do think for the average passenger and train company, their biggest problem is their reputation, which drives passengers away and makes it difficult to attract new ones.

They certainly need replacement, but whether the D-train is the solution in all cases is open to question.

Comparing a D-train with a Pacer can be summarised as follows.

  • The ride quality of a D-train on conical rubber springs, proper bogies and a chassis and body designed to be strong enough to accept London’s punishment is what you would want from any train built in the last twenty years, whereas the Pacer with its two axles and bus-style construction, feels like a bus you’d ride in the Third World.
  • The D-train will have the sort of interior and passenger facilities in a new train, whereas the Pacer interior is pure 1980s bus design. London’s oldest buses built in the early years of this century, make Pacer design look appalling.
  • . Ride a D78 Stock at the Upminster end of the District Line and you can get a feeling how when the trains are carrying a reasonable load of passengers, the trains have a light and airy they feel because of the large areas of glass. Pacers are nothing but claustrophobic.
  • The D-train will meet all access and disability regulations, whereas the Pacer does not.
  • The D78 Stock on which the D-train is based was designed for quick and easy loading and unloading, whereas for many getting into and out of a Pacer is challenging.
  • Will the D-train have an integral ramp for wheelchairs and refreshment trolleys, as is fitted to all buses in London? It would make loading and unloading wheelchair passengers so much faster and thus improve time-keeping and overall train speed.
  • The D-train has wi-fi, which everybody expects these days. A Pacer with wi-fi would be a waste, as the trains ride so badly, you can’t really use a mobile device.
  • I’ve read that passengers will be able to use the wi-fi to order drinks from a server and that train information will be easily available, but my computer system designing mind, says that these are just a small part of what could be done.
  • Many Pacers are overworked on lines that need probably more trains, so I doubt we’ll see many one-to-one replacements.
  • The Pacer is faster at 75 mph, than the D-train at sixty, but then the D-train will handle stops faster and have better acceleration.
  • The Pacers were designed in an era, where bicycles, wheelchairs and buggies were not so common on trains. The D-train will be designed according to the profile of a typical passenger load.

Class 153 Train Replacement

The Class 153 train is a single coach, diesel train built in the 1980s, with a capacity of 75 passengers and a couple of bikes. There are seventy of them and they have a top speed of 75 mph and typically work rural and branch lines throughout the UK.

A lot of what applies to Pacers applies to the Class 153, although they are better trains.

They are not bad trains, but they do have a few problems.

  • Seventy-five passengers is not a large enough capacity on many of the routes they serve.
  • Many Class 153s serve seaside resorts or leisure areas, where there is a large need for bike and buggy capacity.
  • The toilets and other on-board facilities on some need upgrading.
  • Loading and unloading can often be a slow process.

From personal experience, I suspect that some of these trains have reliability problems.

I think that if a lot of these trains, especially those working branch lines like Ipswich  to Felixstowe, could be replaced by D-trains. On some routes like Peterborough to Lincoln, the slower speed (60 mph) of the D-train, may mean that replacement is not feasible.

I also think that on some lines with lots of stops, the D-train’s speed of loading and unloading may be an advantage.

One advantage of releasing a few Class 153 trains, would be that the remaining units could be refurbished and coupled together in pairs to increase capacity on some of the routes they serve, where D-trains would not be acceptable.

D-Train Variants

But perhaps the biggest difference between D-trains and Pacers and the later Sprinters like the Class 153 trains, is that the older trains were designed as a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of providing local trains. D-trains will be a fully-engineered train rebuilt to modern standards, but of a size and capability designed for the route on which it will be intended to run. Vivarail have talked of different versions and looking at where Pacers and other old trains that need replacing are used, you can come up with some ideas.

These will be discussed in the next few sections.

The Commuter Train

Vivarail are promoting the D-train as a commuter train. Many of these routes have frequent stops going into and out of a city, so the stop-at-a-station performance is more important than pure speed. Recent research has shown that more stations may actually be more important for commuting time, than the point-to-point performance of the train.

The Luxury Commuter Train

If you look at some of the latest commuter trains in London like the Class 377 train, much of the seating is at tables, where passengers sit four to a window, giving an experience far removed from any services fifteen years ago.

Also, some cities like Reading and Cambridge now use buses with leather seats and wi-fi on commuter routes into the city.

Over the next few years passengers will demand higher standards on their commute into major centres and train companies will have to provide them to coax commuters out of their cars.

A luxury commuter train could be designed around the D-train with leather seats, space to work, wi-fi, refreshments and a place to store their bicycle.

I would argue that most D-train commuting variants would be furnished internally to a high standard.

The Leisure Train

Quite a few Pacers and Class 153 trains run on scenic lines, often with lots of stations, or a branch to a resort.

They are totally unsuited for this role, as there is not enough provision for large luggage, bicycles and buggies.

The performance of a D-train would be totally adequate for this role and it could be fitted out with perhaps a hundred seats arranged round tables in the windows, so passengers could admire the view, with a large area for the baggage, that these trains attract.

The affordability and availability of the D-train, may mean that a seaside branch would be run by two trains, if the track allowed, so there could be a doubling of services on many lines, at not too great a cost.

The Special Events Train

A couple of years ago, I was travelling in the West Country, at the time of the Glastonbury Festival. It was a nightmare and I’ve never seen rural trains so crowded.

In Is This Rail Project Going Nowhere?, I talked about the problems of getting passengers to and from the new Coventry Arena station on match days.

A special events version of the D-train, could be used to shuttle visitors and spectators to major events like these and the many others that happen around the country.

In its simplest form, it might just be two standard commuter D-trains coupled together to make a four- or six-car train.

I have assumed that D-trains can be run in pairs, as D78 Stock does on the District Line.

If there were a couple of spare D-trains available, they would also be useful to bypass line closures perhaps using non-electrified lines.

Recently, Network Rail have been improving the lines between London and Norwich and regularly, I have endured Rail Replacement Buses to get to and from football at Ipswich. It would have been much easier for passengers, if say a six-coach D-train had been used to ferry everybody between Ipswich and Norwich and Cambridge to catch fast trains to connect to and from London.

The Longer Distance Trundler

There are some important remote lines in the UK, like the Far North Line in Scotland, the Heart of Wales Line in Wales and the Cumbrian Coast Line in England.

Lines like this are very important to the local community, are scenic and often get a rather irregular service with basic trains, that doesn’t encourage use by either locals or visitors.

They must also present problems to train operators, when perhaps a train fails or the line is blocked because of adverse weather or a train hitting stray animals.

The right concept of D-train and operating strategy, either with D-trains working alone or in conjunction with faster trains on these lines, could be the key to providing the first class service that the areas they serve need, at an acceptable cost.

Anything innovative can’t be tried at the moment, as there aren’t any spare trains.

The Creation Of A Spare Train Philosophy

Typically to provide any service or get a job done, you must have adequate resources.

It’s the same, when providing a train service.

As an example, the Victoria Line in London has a fleet of 47 2009 Stock trains. At peak hours there should be 43 trains in service.

So there are a few spare trains either in maintenance or perhaps sitting ready to come into service, should a train fail.

This provision of spare trains is typical of well-managed train networks, as it means that running a full service is a lot easier.

But I suspect most local networks running Pacers and Sprinters have access to very few spare trains. And there just isn’t available to lease!

So could we see the likes of Abellio Greater Anglia, Northern Rail and First Great Western, investing in D-trains, as a sort of insurance, against the sort of problems they face?

A Flexible Train

The beauty of the D-train concept is that the train can be configured to what it will be doing.

We’ve always relied on a standard train and moulded the services and passengers to fit what it offers. That is an outmoded concept.

When you buy a new car, you at least get to choose the colour, whether it is a saloon, estate or hatchback and often the level of luxury you want!

So why can’t train operators buy or lease a train that fits their routes and passengers?

So who might give the D-train a trial?

East Anglia

According to this article on Global Rail News, the Department of Transport has just invited operators to bid for the franchise with the new operator taking over from October 2016, after the winner is announced in the summer.

One of the requirements of the new franchise, would be to introduce 180 new services every week. That is a very demanding requirement, as surely it will need more trains to do this.

So where do they get extra trains?

On the flagship service between Norwich and London via Ipswich, the Class 90 locomotive hauled Mark 3 coaches will be replaced with electric multiple units like Class 801 trains at some time in the future. In the mean-time, the Mark 3 coaches could be updated with automatic doors and retention toilets, just as Chiltern have done. This would meet one condition of the franchise, which is to fix the toilets.

If they needed more trains to run the flagship service, they could always add a few more suitably refurbished Mark 3 coaches, that are currently in store. But there isn’t any suitable electric locomotives in the UK or even on order. One solution would be to use some of the electro-diesel Class 88 locomotives on order from Vossloh for delivery in 2016. These could also be used on new services like.

  • Liverpool Street and Great Yarmouth, via Cambridge, the new Cambridge Science Park station and Norwich.
  • Liverpool Street and Peterborough via Colchester, Ipswich, Bury St. Edmunds and Ely.
  • Liverpool Street to Lowestoft via Colchester and Ipswich.

The first service would also add much-needed extra capacity between Norwich and Cambridge.

Most of the rest of the East Anglian franchise is an intense electric network into Stratford and Liverpool Street.

To improve and increase services, there may be a few electric trains to be scrounged from somewhere, but they would need probably need extensive refurbishment, like many of the trains like Class 321 trains running currently. There might be some Class 319 trains from Thameslink available, but they would need work to be done.

As to new trains, the question has to be asked if any train-maker has the capacity to build them quickly? I can’t see any new trains being delivered before 2020.

There is also the various diesel trains, connecting Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich and running the branch lines out of Ipswich and Norwich. Most are tired, except for a dozen Class 170 trains running the main routes, and all trains lack capacity and especially space for bicycles.

As the franchising documents mention innovative new trains, surely the branches are places where Vivarail D-trains might be used! They have these advantages.

  • They can be appropriately configured for the routes, with plenty of space for bicycles and buggies, that seaside and country services attract.
  • More trains could be ordered, so that service frequencies could be increased.
  • The trains would be available in the near future.
  • They would release some better diesel multiple units to augment services like Ipswich to Cambridge.

East Anglia also has a big problem with irregular but predictable leisure use of trains.

It has two major football clubs and an important racecourse, that are all served by nearby train stations.  It also has several seaside resorts, where if the weather is fine, there will be a large increase in traffic. There are also several festivals and other events  like the Lowestoft Air Show.

So could two-car D-trains coupled together as a four-or six-car train, be used to shift the extra passengers on busy days? I can’t find anything on the web about whether this is possible, but there must be lots of uses for a four-car or longer event special. Often the solution today, is to bring in a few coaches top and tailed with two diesel locomotives. Surely, two D-trains is a better solution.

The big disadvantage of the D-train, which is its low top speed of 60 mph, would probably not matter on East Anglia’s branch lines, as I doubt trains currently go much faster anyway.

But it would probably preclude using the trains from Cambridge to Ipswich and Norwich, except when there were problems on the main line!

According to this article on the BBC, the new franchisee will have to fulfil certain conditions. I like this.

The establishment of a £9.5m Customer and Communities Improvement Fund to benefit passengers and local residents is required.

Does it mean that the government will expect some new and improved stations?

I think it highly likely, that the three bidders for the new East Anglian franchise, will have a serious look at the prototype D-train.

Possible Requirement – 3 to replace inadequate Class 153s

London Midland

London Midland has a few lack of capacity problems..

The well-publicised one is that between Coventry and Nuneaton, which I talked about in Is This Rail Project Going Nowhere? Coventry councillors have already looked at the D-train for a shuttle from Coventry to the new station at Coventry Arena station.

To serve Coventry Arena, the original plan was to have a six-car shuttle between the station and Coventry.

So could the Coventry to Nuneaton Line and the related Coventry to Leamington Line, via the new Kenilworth station be run using three-car D-trains? Two could be coupled together on match days to provide the six-car shuttle for the stadium.

London Midland has a total of eight Class 153 trains, most of which work local routes, except for Birmingham to Shrewsbury.

Replacing just one Class 153 with a D-train on a short route that needs more capacity, would release a train to work as a pair with another Class 153 elsewhere.

Birmingham is a mass of rail lines, many of which still have freight traffic, some of which the local authorities want to reopen.

Consider the following.

So if London Midland had a few spare D-trains could they be used to reopen these lines. Especially, if they reduced the cost of reopening.

In some ways using ex-London Underground D78 Stock in Birmingham would be rather ironic. The trains would truly be coming home.

I can’t believe that London Midland are not taking a serious look at the D-train.

Possible Requirement – 4 to replace inadequate Class 153s, 2 for the Coventry Arena shuttle

East Midland Trains

East Midland Trains has seventeen Class 153 trains. As with franchises discussed previously, I suspect that some of the routes might be better served with a two-coach D-train.

Depending on the performance of the D-train some of the other routes may well be very suited to D-trains.

  • The Robin Hood Line to Worksop will need some extra trains for its proposed extension to Ollerton and a possible link to the Erewash Valley Line.
  • The Derwent Valley Line to Matlock, is a scenic branch, that would probably benefit from more capacity.
  • Several of the routes from Nottingham run Class 153 trains, so perhaps these are possibilities. Tram-trains keep being mentioned, but there are new stations like Ilkeston and routes to serve.

As East Midland Trains have just been awarded a franchise extension to March 2018, I suspect they’ll check out if the D-train can make them money.

Possible Requirement – 8 to replace inadequate Class 153s, 2 for Robin Hood

Great Western Railway

In the Wikipedia entry for Class 230 trains, which is the proper name for a D-train, there is a section called Potential Customers. This is said.

Under a recent franchise agreement, FirstGroup (owner of the Great Western Railway franchise) has agreed to carry out a study on the use of overhauled Vivarail D-Trains on branch lines by the end of the year, possibly leading to a trial of the units.

Certainly Great Western Railway has a lot of branch lines, where D-trains could possibly replace Pacers or Class 153 to provide better trains and larger capacity.

Their small fleet of Class 143 Pacer trains are all based in the Exeter area, serving the following lines.

If Great Western Railway decided to run D-trains here, there shouldn’t be any operational problems as the longest line is only just under forty miles. If they were all stabled together, it must ease servicing and cut the risk of introducing new trains.

Vivarail would certainly be pleased, as they’d get iconic pictures of D-trains running along the sea at Dawlish.

I think we’ll be seeing D-trains on that sea wall by next summer.

Should Great Western Railway go for an all D-train fleet for these three Exeter lines, it would release some Class 150 and Class 153 trains for use elsewhere.

Possible Requirement – 8 to replace Class 143 Pacers


In the Potential Customers section of the Wikipedia entry for Class 230 trains, this is said.

In May 2015, it was claimed Arriva Trains Wales are to open talks with Vivarail over taking on converted D78s.


I got positive vibes from Vivarail D-trains And The Heart Of Wales Line, but this is not the only place where D-trains could be used.

Wales is developing the Cardiff Valley Lines extensively and when you ride them, you get the impression, that they could do more with a few more decent trains. Especially, as electrification is running late and they need to improve things now.

So could D-Trains be used to extend and improve services in South Wales?

There is also the problem of fifteen Class 142 Pacer trains and fifteen Class 143 Pacer trains that need replacement because of the access and disability legislation by 2019/20, unless the Cardiff Valley Lines are electrified.

Possible Requirement – 30 to replace inadequate Class 142 and Class 143 Pacers, 2 for Heart of Wales Line


Scotland doesn’t have any Pacers or Class 153 trains, although I do feel in the absence of anything better, D-Trains would be ideal to improve the service on the Far North Line.

Northern Rail

Northern Rail has the real Pacer problem in that they have 79 Class 142 Pacers and 23 Class 144 Pacers.

I suspect that the company is desperately looking for ways to cut the number of Pacers. But some factors are working in their favour.

  • When Manchester to Preston is electrified in December 2016 and this line can be run using Class 319 trains, how many Pacers will this remove and how many Class 150 and Class 156 trains will be released for use elsewhere?
  • Preston to Blackpool electrification is supposed to be finished in 2017 and as it is a top priority, this target should be met, so that Class 319 trains can give the Order of the Boot to a few more Pacers and release perhaps a few more Class 150 and Class 156 trains.
  • Pacers often run in pairs, so how often would a three-car D-train replace a pair of Pacers.
  • There is also a Porterbrook project to create the Class 144e train, which is a Class 144 Pacer, that meets all of the regulations.

If all the Class 144s get upgraded, there’s still probably about sixty Class 142 Pacers to replace. But at least there is probably a dozen or so Class 150 and Class 156 trains to help.

Possible Requirement – 50 to replace inadequate Class 142 Pacers


The possible requirement could be higher than the number of D-Trains available.

So the Vivarail D-Train had better work, as it looks like that if Pacers are going to be eliminated by 2020, UK railways are going to need every one of them.


What is needed is a good source of quality diesel multiple units. But there are possibilities.

  • If the electrification of the Great Western can be completed as far as Swindon and Newbury, this might release some of the 36, two- and three-car Class 165 trains or the 21, three-car Class 166 trains. But everybody will want them!
  • The eight Class 172 trains on the Gospel Oak to Barking Line will be released when that line is electrified.
  • If Bombardier can get their production line for Aventra trains going at full speed and also create some battery packs to enable some trains to run as the IPEMU variant, these might displace a few diesel trains on branch lines off electrified lines.
  • Class 144 Pacers are converted to Class 144e.
  • All of the Class 150, Class 153 and Class 156 trains must be refurbished to a high standard, as given the pace of electrification, they will be needed for a long time.

As a last resort, it might be necessary to convert the Class 142 Pacers to meet the access and advisability regulations.


September 20, 2015 Posted by | Transport | , , , , | 1 Comment

Vivarail’s D-Train Now Has A Proper Number

When a train in the UK, is getting near to testing and deployment on the UK rail network it is given a TOPS number.

So the Vivarail D-train is now a Class 230 train.

The concept is coming of age!

September 19, 2015 Posted by | Transport | , | Leave a comment

Vivarail D-Trains And The Heart Of Wales Line

I’d never really heard of the Heart of Wales Line until it was mentioned in this paragraph in this article on Wales Online about D-Trains running in Wales.

Vivarail spokesman Alice Gillman says the firm’s engineers believe the refurbished rolling stock would be suitable for lines in Wales including the Heart of Wales Line.

It certainly looks like a forgotten line that could certainly use some new rolling stock.

Reading the Wikipedia entry for the line, I come to the following conclusions.

  • The line is mainly single track, but has been upgraded with four modern passing loops and can take freight trains that fir a loading guage of W5.
  • The line is thought to be scenic.
  • The passenger service is only a few trains a day and is mainly run by single coach Class 153 trains.
  • It must have some horrendous operating problems, which could be expensive to handle.

It sounds to me, that this line is a very much underused asset, that if it was given a better train service could help to improve the lives of those in some of the most remotest parts of Wales. It might even bring more tourists to the area.

I must take a trip on the line.

In 2010, I took a train ride from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and after that trip, I came to the conclusion, that that very scenic line needed more capacity.

But five years on there is still not enough diesel multiple units to give these lines an upgraded service.

So as reports are suggesting, could one or more D-Trains be used on the Heart of Wales line?

The journey takes just over three hours with a Class 153 Train, which has a top speed of 75 mph.

So a D-Train would unlikely be faster along the route, as it only has a top speed of sixty. Although, as there are 29 stations on the line, the D-train which has been designed for easy loading and unloading  in London, may actually not be much slower overall.

Imagine a train service with these characteristics.

  • A train with seats arranged in fours around tables by the window.
  • Lots of space for bicycles.
  • Fully-accessible for everyone!
  • Something like Vivarail’s proposed catering system.
  • A clock-face hourly service from Craven Arms to Llanelli.

All is possible with the right number of D-trains.

D-trains offer other advantages.

  • As the D-trains don’t need the sort of specialist depot that most trains need, this must ease maintenance of the trains.
  • More than one train, probably eases the problems of what to do if a train has a serious breakdown or hits a flock of sheep or a snow drift in the middle of nowhere.
  • Don’t forget the novelty value of riding a refurbished London Underground train in some of the most rural parts of Wales.
  • D-trains will be available by the end of 2016.

D-trains may never run on the Heart of Wales Line, but I can certainly see the reasons why Vivarail have thought seriously about the possibility.


September 18, 2015 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is Vivarail True Disruptive Innovation?

Disruptive innovation is defined like this in Wikipedia.

A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.

I’ve always been a great believer in this sort of innovation.

When we started Metier Management Systems and created Artemis, project management was worthy, time-consuming and if a computer was used it was an expensive mainframe. So we took a small but powerful industrial computer put it in a desk, added a VDU and a printer to do the same PERT and financial calculations much faster and often much physically closer to where the answers were needed. I have heard argued that one of our reasons for great success in the early days of North Sea Oil, was that you could find space for an Artemis system in Aberdeen, but not for a mainframe. The city was crawling with dozens of our systems.

After Artemis, project management was never the same again!

If we look at the building of trains, it is supposed to be an expensive business, with large manufacturers like Alstom, Bombardier, Hitachi and Siemens make expensive complicated trains, that are virtually computers on wheels. But at a price and to a time-scale that is such, that say a train company needs perhaps some extra four coach diesel multiple units to support say a Rugby World Cup or Open Golf venue, there is nothing that can be delivered in a short time.

Over the last few years, disruptive innovation has been alive and well in the train building industry. In the 1970s and 1980s, we built a large number of trains and electric and diesel multiple units based on the legendary Mark 3 coach. Wikipedia says this about the coach.

The Mark 3 and its derivatives are widely recognised as a safe and reliable design, and most of the surviving fleet is still in revenue service on the British railway network in 2015.

It is truly one of the great British designs. My personal view is that the ride in a Mark 3 coach, is unsurpassed for quality by any other train, I’ve ever ridden, in the UK or Europe.

A Mark 3-based multiple unit also survived the incident at Oxshott, where a 24-tonne cement mixer lorry fell on top of the train. There were injuries, but no-one was killed.

So what has the Mark 3 coach got to do with disruptive innovation?

They are like a well-built house, that constantly gets remodelled and improved by successive owners.

The structure and running gear of a Mark 3 coach is such that it is often more affordable to rebuild and improve Mark 3-based trains, rather than order new ones.

If Terry Miller and his team in Derby, had not designed the Mark 3 coach and the related InterCity 125 in the 1960s, I suspect that UK railways would be in a truly terrible state today.

These trains still remain the benchmark against which all other trains are judged. Two journeys sum up the class of a Mark 3 coach.

  • Travel in First and enjoy Pullman Dining on a First Great Western service between London and Wales or the West. Is there any better rail journey available without a special ticket in the world?
  • Travel in Standard on Chiltern to Birmingham and enjoy the ride and the views from the large windows, in the style that the designers envisaged for all passengers.

But the Mark 3 coach has created this industry in the UK, that can take well-built old trains and turn them into modern trains, that are often the equal of shiny new ones from the factory.

So where do Vivarail fit in all this?

London Underground has always specified the best for its railways and expected the trains to last a long time. In some ways it had to, as when it depended on Government favours for new trains, it could not predict if the replacements would ever be forthcoming.

Until the 1980s, most trains were built by Metro-Cammell in Birmingham and regularly fleets have lasted for forty or fifty years, as they were built to handle the heavy use in London, where journeys can be over an hour of full-speed running with frequent stops and often with far more passengers than the trains were designed. Take a Piccadilly Line train from say Kings Cross to Heathrow in the rush hour, if you want to see the sort of punishment that London Underground trains are built to take. The last of these Piccadilly Line trains were built in 1977 and under current plans, they will have to stay in service to 2025.

The oldest London Underground trains still in regularly passenger service, are the Class 483 trains used on the Isle of Wight. Admittedly, they are running a service in a less-stressful environment after fifty years service in London, but the trains were originally delivered to London Underground in 1939 or 1940.

The London Underground D78 Stock, that has been purchased by Vivarail for conversion into the D-train, were first delivered in 1980, so they have only taken about thirty-five years of London’s punishment.

The trains were also extensively refurbished in the mid-2000s.

It also has to be born in mind, that although London works its Underground trains very hard, they also get first class servicing.

Several factors have all come together to create an opportunity for Vivarail.

  • There is a desperate shortage of diesel multiple units all over the UK. Partly, this is because of a need to replace the ageing Pacers, but mainly because of the growth in passenger numbers and the reluctant of Government in the 2000s to invest in much-needed new diesel trains.
  • Network Rail’s well-publicised problems with electrification, only makes the need for more diesel trains more important.
  • A lot of trains will have to be taken out of service as they don’t meet the disability regulations.
  • The UK’s world-class train refurbishment business, which has honed its skills on creating new trains from old for forty years, is ready for a new project.
  • There is now a supply of well-maintained, corrosion-free D78 Stock, that may not be sexy, but are as tough as teak, that are surplus to requirements.

It should also be said, that train operators and passengers want more flexible and better specified train services on difficult lines that are unlikely to be electrified in the near future and are difficult lines on which to provid a decent reliable train service.

Read any of the serious literature about the D-Train and it shows that the engineers are taking the project very seriously and are thinking very much outside the box.

  • Power units are based on Ford Duratorq diesel engines mounted on rafts under the train, with two to each power car.
  • These rafts can be changed using a fork lift at a remote location.
  • Flexibility of interior layout to suit the route.
  • Extensive use of LED lighting, Wi-fi and other modern technology.
  • The crash test has been released as a video. How often do you see that?

But perhaps this article from Rail Magazine entitled Catering for VivaRail’s rebuilt D-Stock, illustrates their innovative thinking better than ever.

The more I read about the D-train, the more I think it will surprise everybody.

It is true world class disruptive technology. And British technology too!


September 18, 2015 Posted by | Transport | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment